Is Twitter readying to serve search marketing to brands and businesses? At least, it very much has the look and feel of it, as the micro-blogging site has acquired analytics company Smallthought Systems - the maker of Trendly and Dabble - and announced the upcoming release of its own URL shortener while also testing a new "friends in common" feature.
Smallthought To Strengthen Analytics In-House
Remember? Last month, Twitter had already launched embeddable Tweets, thereby creating signals for search.
Now it is with a post entitled "More Than Dabbling" that Twitter announced its purchase of Smallthought -- for an undisclosed sum.
By integrating Smallthought's activities and staff in-house, Twitter remains true to its propensity to favour in-house versus external apps development, a constant dilemma that such companies have to face (look at Apple who's being investigated notably over the same issue following its Adobe spat) when they reach a certain size and level of maturity.
The thus-freshly-boosted analytics team "will focus on integrating ideas from Trendly into our current tools and building innovative realtime products for our future commercial partners."
That's the phrase that opens up avenues of speculation.
For instance, Microsoft's search engine Bing has just launched its real-time/social search portal, Bing Social, aggregating Twitter and Facebook user-generated micro-content.
As you may already know, Trendly is widely used to understand trends from Google Analytics data. And these days, from Google to Bing, the line of thought is inevitable. As ReadWriteWeb points out, the new analytics tools provided by Smallthought may help Bing pull up more relevant results for its users.
Suffice to say that with over 65 million tweets a day (and an overload that caused service interruptions in the past few days), the Twitter search database represents a bounty to companies/brands and marketers.
Proprietary URL Shortener
The Smallthought acquisition is not the only pointer towards Twitter's monetization process as the company's freemium model needs to be supported one way or another.
Twitter has announced that it will introduce this summer its own URL shortener.
At the moment, the company said that "all links included in Direct Message notification emails currently pass through our link service and are converted to a http://t.co link." I haven't seen it happening on either outgoing or inbound DMs though.
The official reasons for this choice is safety and "better user experience" as Twitter's tool is supposed to leave a clear indication of where the short link is actually leading to. The example it gave to make its point is the following: "A really long link such as http://www.amazon.com/Delivering-Happiness-Profits-Passion-Purpose/dp/0446563048 might be wrapped as http://t.co/DRo0trj for display on SMS, but it could be displayed to web or application users as amazon.com/Delivering- or as the whole URL or page title. Ultimately, we want to display links in a way that removes the obscurity of shortened link and lets you know where a link will take you."
What that means for users is that eventually, because all short links will be "wrapped" in t.co code, the number of characters available for actually tweeting will be reduced...
In reality, the full launch of that service will signal the end of external analytics features provided by the various URL shortening services available like bit.ly or ow.ly (from HootSuite) and so on. It implies that Twitter will have sole control of tracking links performances. It sounds like a monopoly to me... Add that to the fact that last month, Twitter closed its API doors to third-party ads - you have a well-prepared battle plan for the micro-blogging platform to monetize its service.
When going public with their decision to shut their API to external developers, the company insisted that the next place to be on Twitter for companies/brands and advertisers, would be Annotations. Annotations were announced at the Chirp developers' conference in April and is is supposed to enable "commercial partners" to "service different data-rich verticals like Finance or Entertainment. Media companies in the ecosystem can begin to incorporate rich tagging capabilities" thanks to its Tweet-tagging capacity.
Testing "You Both Follow" Feature
Last but not least, although it may seem innocuous at first sight, Twitter is currently also testing a "you both follow" feature with 10% of its users, according to several media reports.
The feature echoes Facebook's long-standing "Friends in common." From a user's perspective, it might be a tool to sift through the connections and take a more targeted approach. From a marketer's point of view, it is precious information on the users' ecosystems that will help pinpoint potential leads.
It is not clear at the moment whether Twitter intends to push the envelope and start suggesting people to follow, as Facebook has been doing for a while.
How good do you think Twitter will get at monetizing its services? How do you "like" their approach to business?